A Victorian Banquet to Spring
25 April 2006
report by Maggie Newell,
On Tuesday, 25 April 2006, members of the Ontario Wine Society (OWS), the Culinary Historians of Canada (CHO), and the Faculty Club of the University of Toronto (U of T) gathered at the Faculty Club for a special evening celebrating and recreating a Victorian Banquet.
The tone for the evening was set in the wood-paneled reception room where guests nibbled on appetizers based on historical recipes and sipped wine as they admired paintings by David Milne and members of the Group of Seven. Appetizers included salted almonds, cheese straws, and sausage rolls accompanied by mushroom “catsup,” or ketchup. The source of each recipe was listed on the back of our program.
The dining room of the Faculty Club reminded me of a Regency ballroom with its Wedgewood blue walls soaring two storeys high to a white frieze. When the diners were settled we were welcomed by representatives of each group. It took many hands to produce all the elements of this special evening.
Leanne Pepper, General Manager of the Faculty Club, recounted the surprise expressed by their French-trained Chef when he was presented with the recipes. “A Chef does not work from recipes!” he exclaimed. She also gave a brief account of the late 19 th century building, which has been home to the Club since 1940. Bob Moore, OWS President, expressed his pleasure that the Wine Society and the Culinary Historians were able to join together for this event. He observed, lightheartedly, that “while all winos are foodies,” it doesn’t necessarily follow that all foodies are winos. Liz Driver, CHC President, acknowledged the contributions of our dedicated volunteers, especially the cooks who prepared the condiments and confectionery for the evening: Mary Williamson made the red currant jelly; Mya Sangster cooked the mushroom catsup at Historic Fort York; and Fulvia della Schiava and Irene Herzuk created the selection of glacé fruits.
The many wines that we sampled during the evening were all from the Henry of Pelham Family Estate in the Niagara Region. Dan Speck spoke on behalf of his family and the winery. He began by recalling that about 13 years ago, when the fledgling OWS came to visit the winery, the barbeque and the basketball hoop were moved off the patio to accommodate their distinguished guests. The Speck “boys” and their winery have matured since those days. Today the three brothers, Dan, Matt, and Paul operate the family business. The vineyard was established in 1988, and began producing wine in 1989, but the family has a long history in the area. Their ancestor, Nicholas Pelham, was a bugle boy with Butler’s Rangers, a regiment that fought on behalf of the British during the American Revolution. At the end of the war these United Empire Loyalists settled in Canada and were given land grants to reward them for their loyalty to King and Country. These grants could be extensive with 100 acres granted for each member of a family. Nicholas’s son Henry stayed on in the area and styled himself “Henry of Pelham” on the liquor licence when he started a tavern. Henry’s wife Catharine is remembered with the Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé that was our first wine of the evening.
After these opening comments the diners enjoyed their meal with Dan introducing the wines that accompanied each course, concluding with a Riesling Icewine to go with dessert. The Bill of Fare included: Soup – Julienne Soup; Entrée – Salmon Pudding; Roast – Lamb or Broiled Chicken; Vegetables – Asparagus, Lyonnaise Potatoes, Lettuce Salad; and Dessert – Lemon Pie and assorted confectionery.
As befits a Victorian Banquet there were toasts before our dessert, and an after-dinner speaker. Mary Williamson reflected on Ontario’s great banqueting years from the 1840s to the 1860s when gentlemen gathered under the banners of St George, St Patrick and St Andrew, depending on their political or religious affiliations. A typical banquet at St Lawrence Hall would include decorations of evergreen swags, which, in the mid 19 th century were used at all sorts of celebrations and not just at Christmas. A banquet would also include live music in a popular style and “spirited” singing after the dinner. Local papers at the time would send a reporter to the banquet and publish reports of these events, including who attended, the speeches, and the toasts.
Mary Williamson led us through a dinner menu from the 1853 Stephenson dinner that is preserved in the collection of the Toronto Reference Library. A facsimile copy of this menu was provided to each diner with the permission of the Library. The foods described on this menu of nine courses gives us a window into 1853, such as declaring that the salmon is from Scotland. Mary informed us that with the latest transportation technology in 1853, salmon could be transported from Scotland to Toronto in a mere 13 days. Domestic animals predominate, but they share the menu with a Game course. Some of these items are either rare or endangered today, including Sea Turtle, ubiquitous in soups, Prairie Hens and Manhattan Oysters. We may think of Toronto in 1853 as a small provincial town far out in the British Empire, but the menu reports some international influences, or what Mary compared to Fusion cooking today. We discover Indian elements in the form of Mulligatawny soup (a spicy curry vegetable soup), Italian Vermicelli, and many French dishes including Vol aux Vents.
Our Victorian Banquet was very enjoyable, and educational. My only regret is that there was no spirited singing at the end of the evening. Maybe next time?
(Ladies’ Journal, October 1884)
One can of salmon, two eggs, one teaspoonful melted butter, one cup bread crumbs, pepper, salt, minced green pickle. Pick the fish to pieces when you have drained off every drop of the liquor for sauce. Work in melted butter, seasoning, eggs, and crumbs. Put into a buttered bowl or tin cake-mould, cover tightly with a tin-pail lid or plate, and set in a dripping pan of boiling water. Cook in a hot oven – filling up the water in the pan as it boils away with more from the tea-kettle – for an hour. Set in cold water for one minute to loosen the pudding from the sides, and turn out upon a hot platter. Make the sauce by adding to a cupful of drawn butter, the liquor from the can, a raw beaten egg, a teaspoonful of chopped pickle, pepper, salt, and minced parsley. Boil up and pour over the pudding.
LIZ DRIVER’S COMMENTS:
To test, I made half the recipe, using a 213 g can of salmon and a scant ¼ cup of finely minced sweet pickles; therefore, for the whole recipe, use 2 x 213 g cans of salmon and a scant ½ cup of minced sweet pickles. In the sauce, I used a generous amount of chopped parsley. I packed the mixture into a glass loaf-shape casserole (4½" x 8½"), to about ¾" depth. I covered the casserole with tinfoil and baked it at 350ºF. I cut it (rather than tipping out of container as recipe suggests) into 4 servings, which were generous. A full recipe will make 8 servings or possibly more.
At the Victorian Banquet to Spring, the mixture was baked in individual ramekins, in which case the yield depends on the size of the ramekins.
Don’t boil the sauce, or it might curdle.
Easy to prepare and very tasty!